When examining the difference between a paralegal certificate vs. paralegal degree, it’s important to understand that there are definitely distinct differences between the two. The time and cost that it takes to complete the program are often two primary considerations. A certificate program typically costs less, can take from 6 months to 2 years to complete, and is offered by vocational schools, community colleges, and some universities. However, it should be noted that some certificate programs require the student to already hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree upon enrollment.
If an individual decides to seek a degree in paralegal studies, the type of degree to pursue is another consideration. An associate’s degree takes 2 years to complete and is the most pursued besides certificate programs among aspiring paralegals. Bachelor’s degrees take 4 years but are not offered in paralegal studies as often as associate’s degrees. For those with the time and money, pursuing a master’s degree in paralegal studies can lead to a strong advantage in the job market. Master’s-level degree programs typically take 2 years to complete. It is wise to be certain ahead of time if the program being entered is accredited. The American Bar Association has a list of accredited schools and programs for paralegal studies.
Certificate vs. Certification
Not only should the difference between a paralegal certificate vs. a paralegal degree be discussed, but the difference between a paralegal certificate and certification is also an important distinction to make. Holding a paralegal certificate simply verifies that the person has successfully completed a paralegal education program. This certificate of completion is issued to the student who is then referred to as a certificated paralegal. In contrast, a certified paralegal has successfully completed an exam issued by a certifying organization. The student is then granted formal recognition for having met the established requirements of the issuing organization. In addition to meeting the education requirements, prior work experience as a paralegal may be required as well as passing the exam before receiving certification.
Which Choice Will Land a Better Job?
Another important consideration when choosing between pursuing a paralegal certificate vs. paralegal degree is what it will mean in terms of finding employment? Holding a degree does not necessarily ensure landing a better or higher paying job. Many individuals who complete certificate programs become successful and highly regarded paralegals. While a degree is usually better, law firms typically don’t pay higher salaries because a person has a degree. An individual’s experience is what more often determines salary.
The Bottom Line
In considering a paralegal certificate vs. a paralegal degree, individuals who are anxious to get to work right away should probably pursue a certificate. It will always be possible to pursue a degree later on if desired. For such individuals, it should be understood that credits earned through a certificate program are not always transferable to a degree program. For those seeking a certificate who think they may want to go further later on, it might be wise to consider this factor ahead of time. When it comes down to it, the choice to pursue a certificate or degree program depends on one question: “Which one is best for me?”